Updated: Mar 20, 2018
Forward-thinking organizations often have transition or succession plans in place for their top executives. Acknowledging that multiple leadership changes over long periods of time undermine sustainable improvement efforts, some school districts have adopted this corporate strategy.
On one of my stops along the way on my leadership journey, I was a Cabinet-level leader in a district that had experienced multiple superintendents over short and long periods of time leaving the organization in a constant state of flux. Steady and sustainable growth had long ago given way to the quick fix, instant reform, and short term gains, resulting in teachers being more cynical and entrenched as ever and alienating many of the district's education partners. I inherited the top position in that organization when a set of unusual circumstances led to the superintendent exiting on short notice amidst a storm of controversy. I became the de facto leader of the school district, exercising day to day authority over operations.
While unplanned, this unique opportunity allowed me to test the waters of a superintendency as part of a 3-person cross-functional team that also included the Assistant Superintendents of Human Resources and Business Services, respectively. I became the face of the district, providing leadership stability during a period of change and a crisis in leadership. I was responsible for advising and counseling the Board on all educational matters, in addition to my role as the Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services. I also became the district's Chief Negotiator, in deference to the relationship I had built with teacher and classified leadership.
This transitional period for the District came at a time of great change in education. The Local Control Funding Formula and requisite Local Control and Accountability Plan were just introduced, and the Common Core State Standards were in the midst of implementation. In addition, a new system of accountability was on the horizon, adding an element of uncertainty to an already tumultuous period.
At a time when order was needed most, confusion and entropy ruled the day.
Throughout this period, I focused on restoring a solid decision-making process to make certain that the organization did not lose the momentum that we had built prior to the transition. Amidst the chaos, I steadfastly led the effort to develop the Local Control and Accountability Plan, building a coalition of stakeholders to safeguard the District's continued movement forward despite the less than favorable circumstances and political milieu.
Among my priorities was working closely with the Board to rebuild their political capital in the interest of keeping their focus on students and student learning. I had built many relationships throughout the process of developing the LCAP, and the LEA Plan before it, by engendering genuine collaboration and honest and open communications through staff and community engagement. This proactive approach fostered goodwill with the public, staff, both unions, and many members of the regional educational establishment.
As an organization, we prepared ourselves to embark on the organizational behaviors that foster high performing schools, and one of those key behaviors is consistency in key leadership positions.
Together we restored stability and strategically rebuilt fractured relationships with numerous stakeholder groups, while at the same time retaining our focus on moving the district forward. One year later the district is stable, and fruitful relationships with union leaders, partner feeder districts, and community leaders and activists are yielding positive outcomes for students as evidenced by the collaborative culture that is currently flourishing in the district. The catalyst for much of the change initially was the Local Control and Accountability Plan and the process of developing it. But ultimately it was the collective commitment of the entire education community that was not about to let our fraternity fall pray to a set of unfortunate circumstances that would likely negatively impact student outcomes.
While I realized that every organization is unique and that assuming the top leadership position in another district would likely require a different set of skills, the on-the-job training I was afforded positioned my perfectly. I was sure that if I could handle that challenge I could handle just about anything.
At the least, I knew I belonged on the bus.